Smart City chief executive Fareed Abdulrahman.
The Dubai-based owners of Smart City, the internet village being constructed in Xghajra, have privately expressed their disappointment at the way the Maltese government had allegedly "abdicated" on their project, in favour of the Corporate Village development in Mriehel.
According to executives from Tecom and its subsidiary Smartcity Malta, there was some annoyance at government's decision to forge ahead with the construction of new quality office space at Mriehel, ostensibly in direct competition with Smart City's own development.
A source privy to discussions with a Labour party delegation that travelled to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, to meet the Tecom executives, said that at senior management level, the perception is that government leveraged the promise of Smart City to their electoral advantage, but did little else to smoothen the progress of the project.
The most important revelation came from Smart City chief executive Fareed Abdulrahman, who told Joseph Muscat's delegation that the perception that Smart City was meant to create 5,000-plus jobs in its first full year of operation, was "mistaken".
"Every time Smart City comes up, the 5,600 figure gets mentioned. It's not 5,600 in the first year, it's not in the second year... it takes time. It's about 12 years, and the 5,600 might happen in the seventh year, it might happen in the 11th year, but is Smart City Malta only about that?"
Before the general election in 2008, various personalities offered to appear in full-page adverts promoting the government's 'Smart Island' and the creation of thousands of jobs. But four years later, Smart City fails to impress, even though senior executives there are confident that time will prove all the sceptics wrong.
The mega-project was announced by February 2006 by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, two weeks before local elections were due. A few days later, IT, Investments and Transport Minister Austin Gatt announced that discussions were underway with Dubai's Tecom Investments, a subsidiary of the Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's giant holding company Dubai Investments, for the creation of a Malta version of his Smart City. It was set to create 5,600 new jobs, 65% within the knowledge-industry, and turn the depressed south into "the core service hub of the island".
From that point on, the word "smart" became an integral part of the Nationalist Party's - and the government's - political arsenal. As early as September 2006, the slogan 'Int@SmartMalta' was chosen as the theme for its Independent Day festivities.
The PN was in such a rush to reap the political dividends from the project, that Austin Gatt himself said that using 'SmartMalta' as a slogan - while negotiations with Tecom were still ongoing - was "not so smart".
But Gatt did not have any qualms of his own when he launched a blitz media campaign just a few months before the March 2008 general elections, in which the country was bombarded by photos of prominent personalities endorsing the government's 'Smart Island' strategy.
The attempt to broadcast the ads on TV was thwarted only by the Broadcasting Authority, claiming that their broadcast right before the election would be too "political".
Corporate Village, located over 130,000 square metres in Mriehel, is expected to host the main regulatory and business support agencies and departments, serving as government's single point of contact for business. The government is also guaranteeing a minimum occupancy of 30 per cent of the office facilities.
The project development, operation and marketing will be entrusted to the private sector, to host organisations dealing with commerce and trade activities, such as those offering fiduciary services, legal services, brokerage and international trade.